West Clear Creek

May 14, 2005

West Clear Creek is a sacred place to me, so I was very dismayed to witness the deterioration of this area in just one year. Heavy rains and flooding this Spring took out most of the poplar trees, filling the broader sections with deep piles of debris. But this natural damage is minor compared with the consequences of increased human abuse of this area. Be prepared to run a gauntlet of beer-parties-in-progress and 4WD pickups with their stereos set on "stun". Look out for the mini yahoos on tiny ATVs who think it's great fun to spray your car with gravel and dust. Don't even think about using the restrooms. In fact, I highly recommend that you wear earplugs, dark glasses and a bandana for about the first two miles. Yahoodom now extends all the way out to the magnificent pool after the third crossing, and you'll pass scores of beer-bellied baggy-shorted 20-somethings with shaved heads toting plastic bags full of Bud Lite and asking for directions to "the swimming hole" (my responses became progressively less polite).


If you plug your ears and hold your nose -- and your tongue -- for the first two miles, you'll get a taste of the wilderness experience this area is supposed to provide. Past the third crossing, the trail climbs up and away from the river, and the trail is blessedly quiet and, at this time of year, nicely decorated with summer wildflowers.


The columbines were big and luscious in any area watered by a small spring or seep.


The first crossing. Notice how the far bank has been shorn of young poplar trees. Past the third crossing, the trail climbs up and away from the river, and the trail is blessedly quiet and, at this time of year, nicely decorated with summer wildflowers.


The ubiquitous prickly pear.


Mariposa lilies.


Strawberry hedgehog cacti -- a deeper shade of rose in this part of the world.


For the next 2-1/2 miles the trail stays high on the canyon wall, rolling up and down through side canyons that might provide access to the river. We followed one of them down for a quick rinse but the pool was obstructed by downed trees. We were lucky to have slightly overcast skies, so the walking was very comfortable despite the lack of cover.


At 4-1/2 miles, the trail crosses the river a fourth and final time before heading up and out of the canyon. Luckily at this point there was an excellent pool with a stunning red sandstone bench just big enough for a small tent.

The water was a brisk 63 degrees, but no way were we staying out of such a gorgeous pool. As usual, the first dip threatens cardiac arrest, the second is simply shocking, and by the third time you are numb from the neck down and the water feels just fine.


With a mid-afternoon arrival, there was time to swim, write in my journal and observe thelocal wildlife including osprey, mourning doves and brilliant western tanagers. Packs of peccaries picked their way past us. I also got up close and personal with a diamondback, who was not sunning on the rocks, where I was looking for him, but curled up in the shade under a tree root. He kindly gave me ample warning of his presence and yielded the trail after some gentle prodding with a long stick.


A cup of java, a bowl of dehydated ham and eggs, and thou beside me steaming in the wilderness.


Breakfast included a visit by this very large scorpion who settled into one of pockets on Dennis' backpack. He was not easily convinced to give up that comfy hideout, nor was he in the mood to pose for pictures. When his kung-fu pose failed to frighten away the intruders, he flattened out and played dead.


West Clear Creek is still a wild and beautiful place, but the Forest Service needs to exercise some control over this area. Public access should not include the right to conduct multi-day beer busts that leave pristine pools surrounded by fire rings, empty beer cans and wads of toilet paper. Banning alcohol -- and levying some stiff fines for violation -- would probably discourage most of the party-goers. Bullpen Campground should be closed immediately and not reopened until such time as we can raise a new generation with a shred of respect for the environment. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.